When a family trek starts its first ascent into the mountains, it's a familiar picture.
Parents are worried, uncertain, and at times, even sceptical. They get into a well-practised rhythm of taking care of their children’s every need (and want). Dos and don'ts abound. Every “if situation” taken care of. Extra food, extra clothes, extra gadgets to keep the kids occupied.
But if we skip forward and take a look at the last day of the same trek?
The picture is completely altered.
The little ones have not only overtaken all the parents on the trail, but are also motivating them. Parents and children alike are carefree. Climbing boulders and lying on the grass. Having snow fights and building snowmen. It's the kids who are diligently helping out the trek leader, making sure their parents are well fed and well rested.
On a trek, its the children leading the parents. Picture by Vishnu Sivanandan
“By the end of the trek, there is a complete role reversal, which surprises most parents,” says Izzat Yaganagi, head of Experiential Learning at Indiahikes.
What lies at the bottom of this?
We’ll deep dive a little bit.
Having observed trekkers for over 13 years, we notice that trekking makes trekkers more resilient, more empathetic and environmentally conscious.
This impact is ten times stronger in children, who are at a tender, moldable age. Every action, activity and emotion has a deep impact on them.
This often surprises parents, especially when they see their children behaving very differently from what they have seen at home.
1. Children acquire a new sense of responsibility
Rekha Spoorthi, mother of a 10 year old Samanyu, shares, “Even though we have travelled a lot before in nature, it is only this time that I observed a lot of leadership qualities in my son. He was very caring.He was eager to take up responsibilities and he would follow through. He would do all his chores himself without any reminders. He was completely independent. It was as if we were strangers there! Not only did he complete his own tasks, but helped others too.”
Parents often see that the effect of the trek lasts long after they’ve returned home.
Rekha further shares “Samanyu has learnt to be respectful towards others as well. His behaviour towards girls too has become very sensible.”
Another trekker, Swati Bhatnagar Panchmatia, told us her observations of her 10 year old son. “He had a strong sense of responsibility on the trek. What we teach at home was reinforced in him there. He would ensure that the task assigned to him was done without any laziness or reminders”. She adds lovingly, “He, at times, completed his work even before he had his own meal.”
How does this behaviour come about?
While the trek plays a role in bringing about these behavioural changes, the facilitation of the Family Trek Experience has a huge role to play.
Our Trek Experience Manager, Prathima Chhabria, gives us some insight on the trek design. "Right from Day 1, we make children a part of our team. Each of them holds a position — someone is made Assistant Trek Leader, someone a Green Trails Warrior, we also have a Master Chef.”
Parents are surprised at how well their children take up responsibilities. Picture by Swati Bhatnagar Panchmatia.
“This gives the children a sense of ownership. We switch these roles every day, so that children get to switch responsibilities. This automatically instils a sense of responsibility in them. It makes even the most indifferent children eager to take charge!" says Prathima, who is a mother of two herself.
2. Children leave gadgets behind and instinctively turn towards nature
Parents have told us time and again how much more observant and curious children are about nature after a trek. Through the activities and interesting titbits from the trek leaders and guides, children notice things they never have before.
Children take an active interest in the nature around them. They start noticing minute details. Picture by Vishnu Sivanandan
“We saw 2 foxes and a bear! At least fresh bear marks on a tree — which probably meant the bear had gone up the tree!” says one of our young trekkers.
Mratunjay, our Trek Leader, tells us his observation. “Children go about their own scavenger hunts around the campsite. They come across bones in these explorations and start wondering and questioning what kind of different animals live in the jungle.”
Children develop a wide-eyed curiosity and interest in nature on a trek. Picture by Swati Bhatnagar Panchmatia.
In a ‘moodboard’ activity, children use different elements in nature such as different coloured leaves, various shapes to connect to different emotions they felt on the trek.
Through this curiosity, they connect deeply with their new surroundings.
When we asked the 6 year old Naman, to tell us his favourite part on the trek, he gave us a surprising answer. “Jungles…and peace - there is no pollution!” (After his Green trails efforts on the Indiahikes trek, he still tries to collect as much waste as possible -- back in Delhi!)
Even Rekha’s 10-year-old Samanyu and 15-year-old Sarang, live a minimalist life in a big city like Bangalore. Their mother tells us how “the children now know the difference between need and want.”
3. Children begin to communicate openly
Our Trek Leaders encourage trekkers to share their thoughts, feelings and observations at the end of each day's trek. This is one of the most surprising experiences for the parents.
Vijeta Khubchandani, shares how her 6-year-old son opened up, “He is a shy child and mingled less with the trekkers. His only mission was to complete the trek. But the daily task of sharing thoughts and reflections made him open up. He would tell his Trek Leader all about his day and all about his plans!”
And this is not limited to one-on one-conversations. Children take back with them this openness and confidence to communicate. Prathima tells us “Parents see children talking more about nature, about their experience among peers. They are eager to share their trek experiences on school platforms as well. The trek builds this confidence in them.”
4. Families Observe a Stronger Bond Among Themselves
A trek provides a rare opportunity for families to be together without distractions for a long period of time.
Parents and children get to spend much more time with each other than usual. Picture by Swati Bhatnagar Panchmatia.
Binita Shah, who has been to Chandrashila with her 12 year old son, noticed this very strongly. “Being around each other 24/7, and doing so many things together, on this trek has created a much stronger bond between us. This is almost never possible in our daily lives. I’m glad to see the effect lasting after coming back too. We talk much more than we used to. He talks to me about his school and all the new things he learns. We are not just mother-son now, but also friends.”
Parents and children become the best of friends on a trek. Picture by Vishnu Sivanandan
Mratunjay points out the parents’ effort in understanding their children differently. He narrates how families bond more on a trek - “In cities, we are all engrossed in our personal lives. When it comes to communicating with each other, we go for quick-fix solutions. If a child is being stubborn, the parents' reaction is time bound. But here, in nature, they get much more time than usual.”
“Parents get the time to have meaningful conversations with their children, patiently and consciously. They see that even though their children might act stubborn, every child has their own reasoning behind it. Once the parents find out this reasoning, they themselves find an alternate method of communicating,” he observes.
The treks offer a safe space for children to share their thoughts and parents to understand them better.
Parents and children strengthen their bond through the various activities conducted. Picture by Vishnu Sivanandan
5. Parents discover a hidden resilience in their children
Parents come with a lot of healthy worries for their children. This is natural. However, a trek usually turns things around.
A parent, in a heartwarming message to our founder and CEO Arjun Majumdar, writes about his experience with his son.
“My son had been facing stomach problems since before the trek. He was unable to keep his food in. Still, he decided that, come what may, he wanted to complete the trek.”
Worried, he asked their trek leader, Aditya, whether turning back might be the best option.
“Let this come from your son”, was the trek leader, Aditya’s response.
However, “my son vehemently rejected the idea of going back.”, says the father full of pride in his son’s grit.
The father wrote to our founder about how his son’s health did not affect his ability to enjoy the trek.
“He made sure that he participated in all activities and had fun. I started realising that my son was enjoying the small moments between the difficult sections which I was missing out on…”, writes his father.
Till the end, the son was determined to complete the trek. However, unwilling to take the risk, his father decided to bring him back down.
But the father was yet again amazed at his determination and resilience. He writes, “...seeing how tired he was I requested your staff to carry him down as the sun was blazing. But he wanted to walk down by himself. This showed his grit in difficult physical conditions. I realised then what each one of us is capable of. However, we underestimate ourselves at the slightest failure.”
In conversation with us, he says, “I saw my son and the other children facing challenges on the climb, daily. However, once at the campsite, they forgot every struggle and were engrossed in their activities. As adults, we hold on to the negative things happening to us. This approach is something we can learn from our children. And I am sure, the determination to never give up that he has learnt on the trek will always stay with him.”
Parents realise the incredible resilience their children possess. Picture by Vishnu Sivanandan
What we have noticed over many years of seeing parents and children trekking together is that parents start the trek with dependent children and end it with independent, self-sufficient and confident young trekkers.
They notice the impact even long after the trek ends.
As Sharwari puts it, “Parents’ preconceived notions about their children are cast off.”